Scarecrow an Elizabethton Mountain Myth told by Ray Cates

My house was about as far back in the hilly woods  as could be built, I guess.  I bought it for a song and they threw in a rather nice dance and they went traipsing out as fast as a mouse.  I came in with my truck and then the truck stayed put, I used my feet.  Life we only, it seems,  come to once, maybe once is enough, maybe not.  Winters are cold, but that is about everywhere.  Winters are about like grief, Summers are each a dawn.

The dirt road ran out at my house.  I lived up, all I could see was up, not far around, there were trees and more trees.  The guy I bought my house (as it was called by him) said it was on a tree farm, but nothing looked like it had ever been cut.  There were no logging roads, that suited me fine, I needed no tree money.

If anyone owned any of the dirt beyond my farm (as it was), well they never came up and said nary a word.  My holding of 157 acres was about as worthless a bit of misplaced rock and lumps of inconvenient dirt, as conceivable .  It made the Carter County tax collector laugh and hoot.  Raising animals would be a hazard for them, getting lost and falling off something or other.  Why would I want to live there?  Why would I pay even the little of nothing I paid?  Maybe at first I wanted to live alone?  Maybe it was the beauty of falling water, or the sounds of fierce wind, of only hearing non-human animals?  I liked the taste of my water, the smell of clean air and wet trees.

The few people who came by me had powerful purposes.  It was to inconvenient for just a ‘Howdy’, an ‘How is your day?’  Getting to me was measured in hazard, trouble and mud.

One day about noon a guy stumbled up to my house who said his name was, ‘Orin Gasp’.  Well who could make up such a name?  Anyway this Gasp said he was from Erwin Tennessee.  That is maybe 22 miles from Elizabethton, by road.  Lots of footwork by foot, not to mention wear and tear on the traveling person.  Anyway,  you don’t get run over in the woods.

Later when I talked with people at the Stuff Your Poke Food and Drink General Store in Elizabethton, well they never heard of any people named ‘Gasp’.  The fat manager Jim had lived for a spell in Erwin.  I don’t call people fat unless they are standing in 300 pounds or more.  Jim was probably more.   Maybe natural selection had about selected the Gasps out?  Who knows how that works.  I had my groceries brought out to me every 2 weeks, even if I didn’t need any then.  Someone needed to check and see if I was dead yet.  I wasn’t old but I was there because of grief.  Money was not my problem.  If I slopped myself piggish I could have ordered just cookies and gluttoned myself into oblivion.  There are worst ways to go, as I had seen first hand.

Orwin was a big stupid fellow, nice but not even in the ball park with numbers, letters, or posing as a Simple Simon.  He had cross eyes and a deformed, but still breathing nose.  When he came I was ready for semi-human contact, maybe Orwin was like having a dog?

He turned his truck over about a half mile from my house, on a curved part of the road where 5 miles per hour could whap into a downhill roll.  I never told anyone to come my way!  The grocery guy parked on the paved road and brought my supplies by cart.  He had a dog help him pull it.  Orwin’s truck rolled about 200 feet down a hill, throwing him out, then catching fire.  The fire burned his truck and all his stuff.  Left him almost naked.  Naked is tolerated in the woods, in Elizabethton he would defiantly been put in jail, in his state of undress.  Men should always wear undershorts, if your pants are gone, well you are exposed.  Maybe his mother didn’t teach him anything?

Orwin dragged himself up to my house, I was on my porch in my favorite, and only, rocking chair.  I pulled it inside at night.  Sometimes I liked to sleep in a chair.  So Orwin said, “I was looking for work, tried Elizabethton, but I guess because of the depression, with people starving, well they chased me off with guns!”

“Have you ever had a job?” I said.

“No sir, but I’ve been trying.  The blood all over me is from my truck wreck!”  I had not heard anything but I wasn’t listening for rolling cars.  I looked closely at him and the bleeding had stopped from his head, arms, legs and mouth.  He had knocked out about half his teeth.

“Have you got a telephone?”  He said not looking me in the eye.  I had a gun in my jacket, I would use it rather than fight.  Most people don’t want trouble, but who can see into most human minds?

“I’m lost,”  he said when I nodded no to the telephone.  “After the wreck I wandered in the woods, saw nothing until I saw your home.

” It’s about 3 miles out to the Bristol Road, and 6 miles more into Elizabethton.”

“They would have shot me in Elizabethton!  They were shooting warning shots into the air!”

“Why, what did you do?”

“One guy Jessie said, ‘You scared my little girl’.  I didn’t even see a little girl with him!”

“No kidding,” I said  I had heard my grocery boy mention Jessie Carter a local lunatic who was always protecting his imaginary daughter.  I don’t tell just anybody everything I know.

“Really he fired shots in the air, I ran out, started my truck.  I had spent my last money on gas to get me to Bristol.”

“Well why did you turn down my dirt road?”

“Someone might have work for me to do, and I needed to eat today.”

“Did your truck burn up any of my trees?”

“Maybe 50 or a hundred, I didn’t count, but it rained and put out the fire.”

“Good, but this is a tree farm and trees are my money.  You will get a job, and get to work for me.  I’ll give you food and we’ll settle with you working for me for 5 years.  Anyway with no pants, so to speak of, they would put you in the hoosegow if you walked into Elizabethton without pants.  They would call it indecent!  If an ambulance could come out and take you to town they would give you a tie at the back girls gown that you could wear only in the hospital.”

“What will I do?  You said you had no job?”

“What can you do?”

“As a little boy everyone laughed at me because of my nose and eyes.  They said I looked like a comic book funny.”

“You do.”

He didn’t look angry at me, but ducked his head.

“So what did you do for your mother?”

“Cut firewood, carried kindling to our cabin, licked my mother’s toes and licked her legs.  I slept with her and she had 2 more boys, in about 2 summers.  That’s why I left Erwin, or part of the reason.

My boys by my mother beat me up.”

“How old were the boys, because you look no more than age 20?

“The oldest is about 10 summers, but they grew up mean in Erwin, I think they ate like wolves or dogs in the wild  — eating everything that was scurrying around.  They tried school but the teacher went missing.

They began to hurt me and so I left in the truck.  Oh beside licking feet I can fix trucks.  I had to put my dead father’s truck back together, and scrape him out of it so I could drive it here.”

“What do you mean scrape him out?” I said.

“Well when I was a baby mother shot him, by mistake, she always said.  When I was old enough I took all her ammo away and dropped it in the creek.  She had buried him in the truck, and pushed it in our corn field.  Dad served as a scarecrow, with the windows down, and one door open.  By the time I was ready to fix it up he was just a bag of bones.  I hung his bones and suit in that corn field, and had a real scarecrow.  He was uglier than me.”








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